Many thanks to Audrey Barney for allowing me to tap into her research and writing to add details of the life of my great, great great grandfather Daniel Chisholm. More details and references related to Daniel and his family can be found in Chisholm Cameos: Joseph Wilson Chisholm’s Yorkshire Ancestors and New Zealand Descendants. Researched and written by Audrey Barney. 2004
Daniel Chisholm or Chizems as his name was written in the Greasbrough Parish Register, was born on 9 March 1802 and baptised in the local parish church on 4 April 1802. He was the fourth and youngest son to be born to Hugh, a coal miner and his wife, Hannah. Daniel was to be the father of Joseph Wilson Chisholm, my maternal, great, great grandfather, who was responsible for the New Zealand lineage of Chisholms and my great grandfather, Alfred Wilson Chisholm, his fourth son, who started our family line in Australia.
Daniel was born and raised in Greasbrough, a small village 2 miles north of Rotherham in South Yorkshire. Coal mining dominated the lives of the village and this occupation would probably have been the cause of his father’s death, either by accident or mining related illness in 1806. Daniel was only four years old at the time of his father’s death.
The custom of the time was that the children would follow their father into the mining industry. Two of his older brothers, John and Hugh who were ten and six years old at the time of their father’s death may have already been working in the mines to support the family. His brother James, who was eight, was apprenticed as a tailor but his mother went to court to have him released due to mistreatment, in 1807 (Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914). Their mother, Hannah was undoubtedly a strong woman to take on a a male dominated system and win in that era (the women in our family are no shrinking violets so maybe we have Hannah to thank for that!) A census record shows that James had later become a collier.
Although there is no documentation of his early life, later records show that Daniel had also followed his father into mining, probably when he was around seven years old. Working in the pits was incredibly dangerous. Before getting to their place of work, the miners, including the children, had to be lowered down the shaft in wicker baskets, the adults inside and the children would scramble on top. Even at this early age children worked a twelve hour day, six days a week in solitary gloom. Children usually started as a trapper, sitting by one of the ventilating doors ready to open then close it to allow the passage of coal wagons and maintain airflow.
An extremely graphic description of the work of a Trapper, appears in Ayton and Daniells, “A Voyage Around Great Britain 1813 – 1823”:
“One class of sufferers in the mine moved my compassion more than any other, a number of the children who attend at the doors to open them when the horses pass through, and who in this duty are compelled to linger through their lives, in silence, solitude, and darkness, for sixpence a day. When I first came to one of these doors, I saw it open without perceiving by what means, till, looking behind it, I beheld a miserable little wretch standing without a light, silent and motionless and resembling in the abjectness of it’s condition, some reptile peculiar to the place, rather than a human creature. On speaking to it, I was touched with the patience and uncomplaining meekness with which it submitted to it’s horrible imprisonment, and the little sense that it had of the barbarity of it’s unnatural parents. Few of the children thus inhumanely sacrificed were more than eight years old, and several were considerably less, and had barely strength sufficient to perform the office that was required of them. On their first introduction into the mine, the poor little victims struggle and scream with terror at the darkness, but there are found people brutal enough to force them to compliance, and after a few trials they become tame and spiritless, and yield themselves up at least without noise and resistance to any cruel slavery that it please their masters to impose on them. In the Winter time they never see daylight, except on a Sunday, for it has been discovered that they can serve for thirteen hours a day without perishing, and they are pitilessly compelled to such a term of solitary confinement, with as little consideration for the injury that they suffer, as is felt for the hinges and pulleys of the doors at which they attend. As soon as they rise from their beds, they descend down the pit, and they are not relieved from their prison till, exhausted with watching and fatigue, they return to their beds again.”
Despite these appalling conditions Daniel continued to work in the mines and worked his way to the position of collier. His wife was a Yorkshire girl called Sarah Wilson and they married on 19 July 1829 at All Saints Parish Church, Silkstone.
Four children were born to Daniel and Sarah while they were living in the Silkstone area; Hannah who was born at the end of 1829 and only lived for 17 weeks; Joseph Wilson who was my great, great grandfather born on 21 March 1831; Sarah who was born on 11 August 1833 and lastly another Hannah who was born on 15 October 1835 in Kexborough a small village near Darton. All of the children were baptised in Denby Dale Wesleyan Chapel even after they moved to Kexborough.
Daniel was undoubtedly aware of the dangers of working in the mining industry with the early death of his father at 33 years and his brother John at the age of 30 years. His son, Joseph, was around seven years old, when their fifth child was born. This was an age when Joseph would be expected to follow his father down the pit – his career as a coal miner a forgone conclusion. According to the 1838 birth certificate of their fifth child, Martha, the family had moved to Attercliffe on the outskirts of Sheffield. There had been unrest in the mining industry due to wage cuts and poor conditions that would eventually lead to rioting and a general strike. These industrial problems, the dangerous conditions in the mines and concern about the quality of life for his children contributed to Daniel’s decision to leave the coal mining industry and start working as a refiner in Sheffield.
Daniel entered the employment of Read & Co., a metal refinery that collected all kinds of waste from the workshops of those engaged in making gold and silver articles, including old floor coverings, bench dust, refuse and chimney sweepings from which precious metals were extracted. Refining in the 19th century involved long working hours, in unpleasant conditions that offered little or no safety protection. It appears that it was not a much cleaner or safer job than coal mining but Daniel did succeed with this change in his career. By early 1841 the wages books for Read & Co preserved in the Sheffield Archives show that he was in charge of the furnace working six day and two nights a week and earning one pound one shilling and sixpence (Sheffield City Archives. Sheffield Smelting Co. Wage sheets of March 19, 1841). This meant that Daniel carried responsibility not only for the cleaning and maintenance of the furnace but also for the supervision of the workers.
Unfortunately, by 1846, Read & Co was struggling financially and faced bankruptcy. All the men who worked for the company were suspended as negotiations took place for the sale of the business.
This was a particularly difficult period for Daniel. Two more children had been born into the family, James in 1841 and Maria in 1844 (there is a record of her birth and death when she was just over 12 months old but her parents names are not included in the civil records). In December 1846, his wife Sarah, who was 35, died of puerperal fever following childbirth. Their newly born son Daniel died six days later. During their sixteen years of marriage Sarah had borne eight children, of whom three had died. Daniel was now left with two sons and three daughters ranging in age from fifteen to five years with the worry of unemployment added to his plight.
William Wilson, a cotton spinner from Nottingham and son in law of the previous owner, agreed to buy the business. Wilson reengaged some of the men and fortunately included Daniel. The company then traded under the name of the Sheffield Smelting Company and the business prospered.
Life seemed to be improving for Daniel. As well as being assured of employment, Daniel remarried within nine months of Sarah’s death in 1847. His new wife, Ann Bradshaw, was twenty nine years old to his 45 years. His employer provided housing for his workers and according to the Wage Book for 1846-1859, Daniel had a cottage and garden on the work premises paying a rent of six pounds yearly from a wages of one pound per week. The houses provided were considered to be of superior quality “providing always three bedrooms, so that there was decent sleeping accommodation and also insisting that washing tub and sink stone should be separated form the living room” (Vicker J E A Popular History of Sheffield, 1978 p 73).
Daniel was considered a steady and industrious employee, both trustworthy and submissive and he worked for the company for the next 40 years. The owners were known to be philanthropist and took an interest in the care of their employees in more ways than providing housing. This care also extended to their spiritual welfare and employees were encouraged to join the local Zion Congregational Church. In a book written by Rev P Hopwood called The Gates of Zion, Daniel’s acceptance of the church is recorded:
Daniel Chisholm was a Methodist when he came to live in Attercliffe. Being a broadminded sort of chap he decided to hear the Anglican Vicar at Christ Church and also the Rev John Calvert at Zion. …after the tryout forthwith attached himself to Zion.
Ann and Daniel had two daughters. Their first daughter, Anne Elizabeth, was born in September, 1848 and in late 1849, they had a second daughter, Eliza. In just under three years life was again to take a tragic turn of events, his sixteen year old daughter, Sarah, from his first marriage, died from consumption on the 30 April 1850. His six month old daughter, Eliza, died the next day, followed three days later by his wife, Ann, who was only thirty two.
Living in the polluted and rapidly growing industrial area of Sheffield was responsible for many early deaths. The landscape with its monstrous chimneys pouring out smoke, inadequate provision for drainage or sewerage collection combined to make it one of the “most unhealthy towns in the kingdom” (Melton, V. Social conditions in mid nineteenth century Sheffield. Sheffield City Museums). Angus Reach writing in a series on the conditions of the urban poor in the manufacturing districts of England for the Morning Chronical in 1849 described the impact on health of residents living in this “filthy and crowded” city:
“Diseases of the lungs and air passages are, it is well-known, the most fatal and characteristic complaints of Sheffield. Amongst the diseases of the air passages are reckoned cases of bronchitis, pleuritis, asthma, catarrh, and phthisis…..The average age of death of the gentry and professional person in Sheffield is 45.90, that of saw-makers is only 13.94, and that of various grinders, 18.15”.
At the time of his wife’s death, his oldest son, Joseph, was a tailor’s apprentice and Hannah at fourteen, employed as a house servant. Both were living away from home. This left his twelve year old daughter Martha to take on responsibility for housekeeping and the care of her nine year old brother James and stepsister Anne Elizabeth who was two.
Not surprisingly Daniel once again remarried quickly. Within six months of the death of his second wife he married Martha Wilson, who was twenty seven years old and born in Silkstone. It is likely that she was related to Daniel’s first wife but this has not been proved as yet. She was however definitely a member of the same Zion Congregational Chapel as Daniel, where she took her religion and social responsibilities seriously. The Rev Hopgood writer of the Gates of Zion mentioned one of Martha’s favourite sayings (a quote from William Penn, the Quaker) “We can never be the better of our religion if our neighbours are the worse of it”.
By the time of their marriage they had moved to Brightside Brielow on the river Don. A guide produced for the opening of the railway in 1838 described Brightside as being “…much frequented by pleasure parties from Sheffield. On every fine Sabbath especially, the sallow artizan may be seen wending his way thither, to inhale the freshness of the country air, and enjoy the beautiful and extensive prospect which the hill affords. If this was an attempt to move away from the pollution of the industries in Sheffield the area it was fruitless as Brightside was soon to see significant changes with several large steel-works, foundries, and iron forges being established.
Daniel and Martha had five recorded births during their marriage. Sarah Jane born in 1851, William Wilson born in 1859, Daniel Walter in 1859, Frederick in 1861 and Alice in 1865. Once again deep sorrow was to strike the family in 1863 with the death of Daniel Walter at just four years of age from measles followed the next month by Frederic, possibly of the same cause. He was only two years and nine months.
Daniel’s third wife, Martha, died at the age of forty four years in June, 1867 and it is likely that her death was related to childbirth. It appears that Daniel and Martha had a sixth child, Milton, who only lived a few weeks and died in October 1867 a short time after the death of his mother. There are no parent’s name recorded on the birth or death registration for this child.
In the 1871 census Daniel was sixty nine and still working at the Sheffield Smelting Company as a gold and silver refiner. He was still well regarded by his employers, and when attendance at morning prayers dwindled, Daniel was asked why this was occurring. In Chisholm Cameos Audrey Barney describes his response:
This was far from an enviable task for Daniel, and he decided the only acceptable way for him to cope with this request was by writing a letter in reply, which he hoped would cause least offence. Accordingly he wrote seven closely written pages, without a full stop or a paragraph, in which “I try to perform a not very pleasant task”. He is perfectly frank in the letter, telling John Wilson, who was a son of the original owner and responsible for the day to day control of the works, that John had said things “that implied lack of confidence in their honesty” and “that the men found this unpalitable [sic] from a young master only recently come amongst us”. The men also resented his comments that they were inefficient and slack, and Daniel pointed out that the “men felt the pressure of his driving system and that when men have to be at work two or three nights a week they cannot work as men who get their rest every night”. He wrote of John Wilson conducting prayers in the morning and that, after the reading of God’s word, “you come and stand over them like a slave driver in South America”. Daniel proceeds by making the observation that “with the greatest respect, I assure you from long experience that the better the feeling that exists between Master and Workmen the better the business will prosper and as Christians it is our Duty to be kindly affectionate one to another”.
In pre-union days, Daniel showed great courage in writing in this way to his Master, and to John Wilson’s credit he took it well and in a written reply thanked Daniel for his frankness and asked the men to make allowances for the faults of a young man. The atmosphere must have improved, as the business boomed.
Of the sixteen children recorded that Daniel fathered only six were to survive past their thirties. Joseph my great great grandfather who migrated to New Zealand; Martha who married a stone mason; James who became a congregational minister; Ann Elizabeth who married a butcher; Sarah Jane who married a cafe manager and William Wilson who became editor of the Sheffield newspaper, “The Independant”. All of his surviving children remained in Sheffield, living nearby to Daniel, with the exception of Joseph.
Daniel’s daughter, Ann Elizabeth, her husband and their family lived with Daniel at 41 Carlton Road, Attercliffe, until his death on 31 January 1879. He died of chronic bronchitis, a common disease in the polluted Sheffield environment, when he was seventy six years old. He was buried in with family plot at Burngreave Cemetery Sheffield, on 3 February 3, 1879 (General ground; Grave Number 1, Section G) with his third wife Martha, his daughter Alice and two sons, Daniel and Frederic.